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15.12.2003

The access to information in Ukraine

   

Moderator: Taras Shevchenko, “Internews”.

Plenary report: Yevgeniy Zakharov.

Participants of the session:

Sergiy Fedorynchyk, “Zeleny svit”. Drawbacks of the state conception of informational policy.

Oleksandr Stepanenko, “Zeleny svit”, Chortkiv. Concealment of information as a basic method of self-protection of the corrupted authorities (the misuses in the enterprise “Ternopillis” are described as an example).

Oleksandr Bukalov, “The Donetsk Memorial”. Accessibility of information and penitentiary reform: legislation and law-applying practices.

Yevgeniy Bayramov, the Lugansk branch of the VCU. Access to the information on the budget of the organs of local self-rule: the situation in Severodonetsk.

Oleg Tseluyko, the KhG. The development of the culture of the access to information: the European experience .

Three conferees took part in the discussion.

Owing to the development of the Internet and the computer legal systems, the access to the parliamentary information in Ukraine has essentially improved. Free sites appeared (for instance, rada.kiev.ua) that contain all legal and the majority of open sublegal acts. The computer legal system “Liga-Zakon” includes all normative acts registered by the Ministry of Justice. Yet, this system is chargeable and rather expensive, so only a small number of public organizations can use it. The texts of many law drafts also became accessible, so the non-governmental organizations got the opportunity to exert influence on the legislative activities.

The access to information that is possessed by the organs of executive power is unsatisfactory. The progressive laws “On information”, “On state secrets” and other laws, which had been adopted in the first half of the 90s, were almost brought to nothing by the sublegal acts and the law-applying practices, the main feature of which is the wide use of the illegal security classifications restricting the access to information, in particular, such classifications as “for service use only”, “not for printing” and “not for publishing”. These classifications are not envisaged by laws. The procedure of work with the documents “not for printing” and “not for publishing” is not stipulated by any registered normative acts, and the Instruction on the procedure of work with the documents “for service use only” is written in the spirit of the old good totalitarian times and practically blocks the access to such documents.

The state guards “the information that is a state secret or other secret stipulated by law, confidential information owned by the state, open information that is important for the state, independently of where this information circulates, as well as the open information important for the society or separate persons, if this information circulates in the organs of state power and local self-rule, National Academy of Sciences, Armed Forces, other military units, law-enforcing organs, state enterprises, state establishments and organizations”. The List of the informational items, which are guarded by the state, concerns only the information that is related to state secrets and confidential information owned by the state (classified as “for service use only”). However, the lists of the documents “for service use only” has not been published yet, and the List of the informational items that are state secrets was published immediately after its approval in 1995, but later it was made secret, as well as the later additions to this list. Thus, the decisions on the restriction of the access to information is taken on the basis of the opinion of an official, who is responsible for the secrecy of this information, but not on the basis of open legal acts, as it should be done in a country, which is a member of the Council of Europe.

In order to learn how widely the illegal classifications are applied, Kharkiv Human Raghts Protection Group analyzed all documents that were adopted by several central agencies in 2000-2002 and counted up the number of the classified documents. We used the computer system “Liga-Zakon” and learned that the greatest number of the classified documents was issued by the President of Ukraine and the Cabinet of Ministers. At that, the President applied the classification “not for publishing”, the Cabinet of Ministers – “not for printing”, and various state agencies – mainly “for service use only”. The titles of all documents “for service use only” (from which the substance of a document can be understood) are contained in the database. Yet, the documents “not for publishing” and “not for printing” have only numbers, so it is impossible to comprehend what type of information they concern.

A great number of the nameless documents issued by the President and the Cabinet of Ministers stimulated us to scrutinize the dynamics of the adoption of such documents during the longer period. It appeared that the wide application of the classifications “not for publishing” and “not for printing” had begun in 1994. We observed the obvious peaks of the number of such documents. Although there is no correlation between these peaks, but more often they coincide with the election campaigns and all-Ukrainian referendums. The proportion of such documents reached 7% of the total number. It is also noteworthy that the President classifies much more documents than the Cabinet of Ministers or any other agency. And the growth of the number of the documents “not for publishing” in 2002 coincided with the appointment of Viktor Medvedchuk to the post of the Head of President’s Administration. In September 2002 the proportion of “not for publishing” documents signed by the President made almost 10% of the total number of the issued documents.

The participants of the conference gave many examples of the illegal security classifying of socially important information both on the central (the plan of the actions “Ukraine-NATO”, agreement on the gas consortium, the Regulations on the state administration, information on the increase of salaries of the members of the Supreme Council of Justice, etc.) and local levels (destruction of the run of the Ternopil newspaper “Svoboda” with the information given by the deputies’ commission of the oblast council about the misuses in the company “Ternopillis”, concealment of the town budget by Severodonetsk town administration and so on). At the same time, the participants remarked that there were some positive changes too: some organs of state power and local self-rule became more open, they informed the public about the taken decisions on their own sites, at the public hearings, etc.

In order to improve the situation as a whole it is necessary to adopt the modern law concerning the access to information and to cease the practices of the illegal use of security classifications. Public must permanently and thoroughly control the situation with the access to information.

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